11 Jan 2019

SsangYong Tivoli 2019 first drive review

We test SsangYong's little car with big potential
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SsangYong has a lot at stake with its Australian revival.

Introducing a new lineup that so far looks better than anything sold here before it, it would seem prudent for the South Korean brand to put its best foot forward and make a big impact on this competitive market.

So it's a touch odd that this brand-new model to Australia is near the end of its life, and a facelift is just around the corner that will launch here before June this year, along with a complete local suspension tuning program from Ssangyong that should bring finesse to ride and handling.

Nevertheless, it’s here now and priced to sell, with a bevy of drivetrain options and some practical highlights.

Overview

The Tivoli is a compact SUV that slots in against competitors such as the Mazda CX-3, Toyota C-HR, Honda HR-V, Mitsubishi ASX and Hyundai Kona – a big selling segment with plenty of upside if SsangYong gets the formula right.

The style-driven compact SUV segment can feel too small though, so the Tivoli XLV, a 238mm longer version of the Tivoli, might really appeal with a large 720-litre boot and extra rear-seat legroom.

Still, the Tivoli offers a competitive 422L boot space and it’s priced pretty sharp.

Pricing for the entry model EX, with a 1.6-litre petrol motor mated to a six-speed manual transmission and front-wheel driveline is priced at $23,490 driveaway. A six-speed automatic costs an additional $2000.

The mid-range ELX petrol automatic costs $27,490, and a 1.6-litre turbo diesel engine version is available at $29,990 drive-away.

The top of the range Ultimate is priced at $33,990, with all-wheel-drive and diesel auto driveline.

All models come with AEB, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, and automatic high beams – a big tick for safety inclusions.

The EX gets 16-inch alloys (and a nice change to entry-level steel rims with hubcaps), cloth trim seats, front and rear parking sensors, and a 7.0-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The ELX adds dual-zone climate control, roof rails, tinted glass and HID headlights.

At the top-end, the Ultimate swaps in larger 18-inch alloys, sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats, leather trim all-round and a full-size spare.

Service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first, though seven-year fixed-price servicing costs are yet to be confirmed. All SsangYong models are covered by a long seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty and seven-year roadside assist – absolutely besting all rivals except the MG ZS.

Despite a mix of high and ultra-high strength steel in the body along with five-star ANCAP-required technology such as AEB and lane departure warning, the Tivoli scored only a four-star ANCAP rating (carried over from EuroNCAP testing in 2016) due to poor rear-seat occupant protection.

What's the interior like?

Despite some cheap looking finishes, the seats are comfortable, with a good quality leather used in the Ultimate that has a soft but supportive feel. The steering wheel has a good grip in the hands too but limited adjustment doesn’t match the nice low-set seating position available. And the low position might not be high enough for those after a commanding high SUV type outlook.

The infotainment system is a 7.0-inch display with connectivity to the latest Apple CarPlay and Android Auto interfaces. It works quickly and is simple to use, and the only criticism is that is has a less crisp resolution newer units. Around it's a mix of materials, some funky and some a little dated in appearance.

With a lower seat-point than some other compact SUVs the Tivoli doesn’t have a high lateral hip-point to slide onto, but it’s wide door apertures all-round and electronic tailgate make getting in and out or loading up easy.

Room for the front is good, though a touch narrow between the pews, while the rear-bench has better leg and kneeroom than most rivals. It still not great, but acceptable for an average size adult to not complain about and there are ISOfix points on the outer seats.

The Tivoli XLV will be the standout in class here, with a longer wheelbase that liberates room to be more akin to a mid-size SUV.

Back to the Tivoli, it has 60:40 reclining seats for expanded and versatile cargo room, and there are deep door pockets and a reasonably large centre console bin at hand with USB port under the infotainment system

The Tivoli XLV (the long-wheelbase version) has a massive 720L boot that rivals even medium-size SUVs. That gives the compact crossover a big advantage for room, but that model was not available on test.

Being such a small SUV it’s easy to drive around narrow streets and park in tight spaces. The big boot (423L) is handy for carrying more than just some grocery bags (looking at the CX-3’s 264L) and implementation of an independent rear suspension setup adds width in the back that basic torsion-beam cars don’t have between the wheel arches.

What's it like to drive?

Entry-spec engine is a 1.6-litre naturally-aspirated petrol producing 94kW of power and 160Nm of torque through either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission.

Further up is the 1.6-litre turbo diesel engine – the only available on test - that produces 84kW and 300Nm and goes through a six-speed Aisin automatic transmission to drive the wheels.

Despite a low power output of 84kW, its 300Nm of torque provides grunt and immediate response higher up the rev range. Down low it lacks punch and feels tame, but it’s effective in moving the Tivoli’s 1405kg mass along steadily.

The Aisin-sourced six-speed works well, picking the right gear and shifting smoothly either up or down, and holding onto the one cog around corners rather than dropping to a taller gear.

There’s room for improvement in refinement, as it did sound a touch noisy in the cabin, though most of that is likely due to average sound insulation rather than an overly chattery engine.

We didn’t test the petrol motor but, on paper, its low torque and average power output might struggle to keep up with sharper contenders.

The diesel automatic is the leanest of the lot, claiming an average 5.5L/100km on the official government combined cycle while the petrol auto claims 7.2L/100km. The longer XLV claims 5.9L/100km and 7.6L/100km respectively for the same driveline configuration.

Unfortunately, SsangYong has not put its best foot forward, electing to launch its soon-to-superceded model before a facelift that will include comprehensive local tuning to ride and handling.

That doesn’t make the Tivoli bad to drive - it’s pretty easy to get along with for the most part, with the engine bumbling along at normal speeds though lacking immediacy off the line. It’s a bit noisy and strained up top but the package feels tight thanks to a more sophisticated multi-link rear-end suspension setup and standard McPherson strut front-end. They give a compliant ride - a touch firm on bumps - but it should breathe nicer after the locally-tuned facelift.

Relatively nimble, the Tivoli is willing to get up and go with a shove but under braking and firm cornering it isn’t such a happy camper. The electronic stability control is too nervous before the limit of grip is reached and shuddering ABS can come on quickly under heavy braking when it’s not really required.

It’s a pity, as the underlying foundations are solid when not hindered by electronics.

It’s a touch firm and yet disconnected in communication from steering despite three different driving modes (effectively providing light to firm resistance), and the brakes are a bit soft, but the facelift could bring some enhancements in these areas, particularly localisation.

What's the first impression?

Every gun makes its own tune, and the Tivoli has some funky fresh styling that stands out. But it feels a little rushed out the door for a new entry in the important compact SUV market, which is a pity because all of the fundamentals are there. The XLV, in particular, could really ruffle some feathers, but it will likely be the soon-to-be-updated models with more contemporary styling and better tuning that can really start to make a dint.

 

2019 SsangYong Tivoli Price and Specifications

Price: From $23,490 drive-away

Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol and turbo diesel

Power: 94kW, 84kW

Torque: 160Nm, 300Nm

Transmission: Six-speed manual or automatic, FWD and AWD

Fuel use: 5.5-7.6L/100km

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